The Catcher in the Rye Summary
by J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye book cover
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The Catcher in the Rye Summary

The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger about a teenager named Holden Caulfield who spends a few days in New York.

  • On his last day of the fall term, Holden gets into a fight with his roommate, Stradlater, over a girl.
  • Holden goes to the city. There, Holden asks his ex-girlfriend Sally to run away with him, but she refuses. 
  • Holden visits his younger sister Phoebe. He has her meet him at the Metropolitan Museum. She arrives with a suitcase, prepared to run away with him. He assures her that he's not running away after all.

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Summary

J.D. Salinger published The Catcher in the Rye in 1951. In the novel, narrator Holden Caulfield leaves his prep school for an unsupervised weekend in New York City. Over the course of the story, Holden gradually reveals his feelings about his classmates, family, and a tragedy that has left him reeling. Salinger's insightful look at the world of adolescent alienation and rebellion has made The Catcher in the Rye one of the most widely read books of the 20th century.

Plot Summary

The novel begins with Holden Caulfield addressing the reader as a peer, his speech peppered with slang. Holden is staying in California with his older brother, D.B., an author turned screenwriter. Holden reveals that he is recuperating from the events of the past December. It is those three days that he describes in the novel, setting up an extended flashback.

Holden is a student at Pencey Prep, a private boarding school in Pennsylvania. It's Saturday night and his final night at school. Instead of attending the big football game, Holden goes to say goodbye to Mr. Spencer, his history teacher. Holden has been expelled from school due to his failing grades and will not return after spending the holidays with his family in New York City.

Holden reveals to Mr. Spencer that he has not told his parents about his expulsion. Mr. Spencer is a kind man who feels bad about giving Holden an F, even though it's the grade he deserved. Mr. Spencer advises that Holden should be more concerned about his future before it's too late. Holden feels uncomfortable and tells Mr. Spencer not to worry about him before saying goodbye.

Holden returns to his dorm room to read, but he is interrupted by Ackley, another student. Holden finds Ackley's habits annoying and is relieved when his roommate Stradlater returns.

Stradlater is a strong, handsome student, but not very bright. Holden agrees to write an essay for him. Holden generally likes him but is unhappy to learn that Stradlater's date for the evening is Jane Gallagher, a childhood friend of Holden's. He worries that Stradlater may try to take advantage of her.

After dinner in the dining hall, Holden, Ackley, and another friend go into town for hamburgers. When he returns to his room, Holden sends Ackley away and writes the essay for Stradlater. He writes about his younger brother Allie's baseball mitt, revealing that Allie died of leukemia a few years earlier. In his grief, Holden slept in the garage and punched out all the windows with his bare fists, an action that caused permanent damage to his hands.

Stradlater returns from his date and is unhappy with the essay, so Holden tears it up and throws it away. When Stradlater tells Holden about his date with Jane, Holden flies into a rage and punches him. Stradlater hits him back and leaves him alone in the room. Feeling alone and depressed, Holden tries to spend time with Ackley but ends up feeling worse. He decides to leave Pencey immediately and spend a few days alone in New York.

Holden takes the train to New York and checks into the Edmont Hotel. He doesn't want to be alone, but can't bring himself to call his family. After calling a girl he met once at a college party, he goes downstairs to a nightclub. He meets some girls from out of town and enjoys dancing with one, but they leave him once they finish their drinks.

Alone again, Holden finds himself remembering kissing Jane. He decides to take a cab to Ernie's, a jazz club in...

(The entire section is 1,578 words.)